There isn’t anything striking or clanging about the arrival, never an announcement or a grand entrance, it’s always more of a day-after-day-after-day insipid stupidity that takes over, thick oatmeal quicksand instead of a wallop of despair, acedia is a bit slower, a creep of a thing. And I’m feeling it, the acedia, the desert fathers and mothers called it the noonday-demon. Different than sloth, it’s more of a spiritual ennui or boredom, an exhaustion of why-bother-nothing-matters.
I used to call it depression, but it’s not. That is a real things, a clinical thing, and this is just me, feeling bored, stupid, tired out, listless, sad, burned out, day after day after endless-never-ending-day.
I blame a lot of things: poor food choices, late nights reading, hot weather, summertime, too much time online, wrong focus, temperament. But it’s none of those things at the root, not really. It might be sin eventually, but at the beginning, it’s simply a season of my soul, a sign post for my spirit, when I recognise it, a sign that I am worn out, and to continue like this is to continue to despair.
But I don’t really tackle this with the traditional work associated with my spirituality: fasting, prayer, singing, church, bible studies, go and do, memorize Scripture, and write a few more entries on my list of 1000 gifts.
No, I simply get to work.
It’s probably the prairie kid thing, combined with the evangelical-mutt thing, but when acedia slinks into my soul, spreading into every corner of my life with an ooze, when my mind is fuzzy and apathetic, when I’m listless and worn out, burned out, on religion and parenting and marriage and family and everything about my life, I get to the daily, methodical, healing goodness of real work.
I cook. I bake. I do laundry. I clean my washrooms. I vacuum. I organise our closets. I knit. I stop reading late at night. I take morning walks in my favourite places. I stop checking the Internet. I even stop writing. I stop anything that requires me to think or feel too-too much.
Nope, it’s the good, hard, real work of life, the repetitive work, the work that lets me rock back onto my heels with a satisfied feeling, a look-what-I-have-accomplished sense, that saves me in these seasons.
I bring order to my soul with the ordinary work, the ordinary love, the ordinary beauty of the every day life, and funny as it may be, it’s where I find that space of pause, the shut off switch for my never-ending-inner-monologue that so irritates me, my first-world problems and my over-analysing, my evangelical hero complex.
The work of my hands and my body pauses any existential crisis, the daily work of living redeems, and I feel the acedia fading with each day of right choices, one after another, each step of pushing back the darkness with fabric softener, veggies, backyard camping, laughter seeking, and newly-white bookcases in the fading sun.
I do the things I don’t have the natural inclination or desire to do, out of sheer stubborness: shower, put on make-up, get up early for a walk, make meals for my family, clean, fold underwear. I turn on the Olympics, and I scrub my floor, I bath them all and clip 60 nails of little hands, I make sure every one is drinking their water. It helps move me along, move me through the valley, somehow.
And God is there, in the daily quotidian rhythms of my day, without straining and earnest seeking, simply there, always there, always present, and when I go to bed at a decent time yet again, some part of me begins to find joy, contentment, peace, and I receive the gift of hope, all over again.
Yes, Kathleen Norris is another patron saint. Her slim book “The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Womens’ Work” and New York Times Bestseller “Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life” saved my life a time or two.